Monday, 22 September 2008
Wednesday, 17 September 2008
Lo, the legends tell that in the dark years of the millennium’s turn, there did live a shitty filmmaker known as Roland of Emmerich. And he did make unto the dark gods many a graven image of a blockbuster, some bearable, others like demons in their nature, oily, low, and illiterate. And he did make a film barely an hour and a half long, but yet did feel like three, telling of the ancient times, when all humans were hippies, peaceful in their stick-and-stone abodes, at one with nature. Except for the mammoths, whose big furry asses they did eat. But woe unto the tribe of Dreadlock Dude (Steven Strait) and Good-Teeth Girl (Camilla Belle), when the mysterious four-legged demons of the north snatch her away, forcing Dude and his homies to follow. Whence they did clash with many strange animals that ought to have been extinct, and with the harsh elements of montage, and with the screenplay that had been written on a cocktail napkin.
And who did write this screenplay, known through all the lands for its lack of character and story development, its superfluous dialogue, and total lack of dramatic passion? “We!” sayeth Emmerich and Harold Kloser. And who did waste his time by shooting this film with much beauty? “I!” sayeth Ueli Steiger. And who did produce it? “Us!” quoth the sixteen credited men. And though he does shoot action well, and spectacle with skill, woe unto the wicked king Emmerich for not caring at all about the arts of the dramaturge, for his days of dark rule may be ending lo.
Tuesday, 16 September 2008
It’s still an interesting, detailed directorial debut from Ben, with brother Casey in front of the camera – an arrangement I’ll be happy to see continue. Ben tends to present his Bostonian neighbourhood types too broadly, replete with square-jawed shit-talking Irish thugs, chunky chain-wearing fake gangbangers, and hoody-jacketed, bare-navel welfare skanks. He offers his heavyhitter cast – perhaps a touch too much so, each demanding their indulgent bit of show-acting – meat to munch, but as with The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Casey delivers the film with his subtle yet highly expressive performing. In the best scenes, Ben’s camera averts and glimpses with intelligence and felicity, breaking up the smooth flow of its otherwise overly-generic writing and structuring with a real sense of the modern world’s eeriest hells.
Saturday, 13 September 2008
Having watched this film twice, I can say it consistently gives me a conflicted reaction. I love Truffaut’s stylish filmmaking, particularly in the freewheeling first half-hour, but always find the story, frankly, a little tedious. I want to know more about the inner lives of the characters, Catherine especially, than I’m given, so I react with impatience to the fumbling second half of the film.
It is, to a certain extent, fitting that the second half is about fumbling, as that is what the characters are doing, feeling their way intuitively through a new life and new morality, but somehow the film never really develops the kind of depth of perspective or psychology to make the characters and the film truly affecting. Catherine’s siren-like irresistibility never feels true – I wish the film had more to say about her than to pass her off as a semi-mystical force of feminine caprice. I prefer Truffaut’s follow-up, Two English Girls, an altogether darker, less blithe, less euphemised adaptation of a Henri-Pierre Roche novel involving a ménage a trois – that film burns with a kind of frustrated midnight ardour, where Jules et Jim skips gaily along until it seems to realise it should be being serious about something, but doesn’t know why. .
That said, it’s an often beguiling, and, occasionally, very funny film. It articulates an intriguing thesis, on the exhaustion of European civility, which theoretically enables this situation but really only exacerbates it troubles, and the attempts to construct something new. Jim speaks the unwritten theory: “You tried to invent love. But pioneers must be humble, without egotism.” Whereas Catherine and Jules are all ego, despite their longing – only the selfless but morally impotent Jules survives, and remains in the heart. Jules et Jim feels like both a nod to fin de siecle bohemianism, and also a fanfare for ‘60s experimentalism, and other, more substantial films, like Two English Girls or Eustache’s The Mother and The Whore.
Monday, 8 September 2008
Oft-referenced (Ghostbusters, 1984; The ‘Burbs, 1989) but witless horror yarn presents an intriguing tale with all the subtlety and sense of mystery of a shovel to the cranium. Often the words “Michael” and “Winner” are deal breakers for me, and The Sentinel is beset by his innately trashy sensibility.
Here's an onanistic lesbian ballerina, just to prove I wasn't kidding.
They warned me about these Greenwich Village parties...
Cristina Raines' reaction to being cast in this film.
It’s not entirely lost – the final image of Alison, decrepit, blind, cocooned in a nun’s habit, retains some impact. But Alison is loaded down with comic book traumas; the flashback to schoolgirl Alison stumbling in on her father having an orgy, getting slapped around for her sins – he even tears off her crucifix necklace, so we get the point – and then making her first suicide attempt, is stupefyingly sensational. In the idiotic climax, John Carradine, to save the day, has to press his way through one of those hand-grabby free-for-alls that irresistibly calls Ed Wood to mind.
Snips and snails and puppy dog tails...
Only once does Winner’s vulgar bent pays off, in one sequence where Raines, scantily dressed in a nightie, armed with a carving knife, prowls her haunted house, encounters her dead father’s ghostly form and furiously stabs him – for this scene, at least, he captures some of the heady, morbid sexuality of underground gothic art.
Take warning, Kate Moss! This is where your coke-snorting, girl-kissing model lifestyle is leading you!
Sunday, 7 September 2008
Unlike Arnold’s slicker Creature from the Black Lagoon, it doesn’t subvert its more incisive interests for a monster hunt. It’s the first of the alien-possession films too, and though not as driven as Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, it’s also more probing and more morally complex. There’s a breath of real mystery to sequences like when the aliens take possession of people, and quiescent eroticism when Carlson pursues one alien who has taken on the illusory form of his girlfriend (Barbara Rush), changed from eager suburban miss to a black-draped femme fatale, who tries to assassinate him. It presents an intergalactic culture clash, where the aliens are cleverly shaded opposites of the humans they encounter.
Carlson’s John Putnam is defined as a intellectual misfit, resented for his curiosity and difference, and he becomes the ideal catalyst then for first contact, to the point where Carlson finally confronts their leader who has taken on his own form, reflecting his own yearning and probing imagination, but also his own limitations and paranoia, back at him. It could be called a companion piece to another ’53 film, The Wild One, which is also about a group of disturbing “invaders” who provoke equally disturbing reactions from the “normal”, whilst commenting on the difficulty of communication between creatures of vastly divergent experience, revealing the hidden faultlines in the consciousness of the decade we have come to remember as a settled, conformist, and optimstic period. It Came From Outer Space is the superior film, not merely for being less sensational, but for the acute way it entwines both the ambitions of its time, its sense of limitless horizons, and also its deeper troubles, the fear of the unknown both within and without.
Thursday, 4 September 2008
Trouble is, all of the sense seems to have been left out of the film, as the finale leaves more questions to be asked than answered – and not in a good, David Lynch fashion. The elements of the original storyline have been treated with contempt, and it’s easy to guess who isn’t the omnicompetent super-psychic, considering how many characters keep getting snuck up on, or not detecting that they’re being spied on. How and why villainous Michael Rennie (my new rule – always suspect Klaatu) decided to infiltrate an institute that happens to have both an old friend and another, undiscovered super-psychic on the staff, is beyond my puny intellect’s grasp. The film bends over backwards to be an action-adventure in a sub-Hitchcockian mould, and subjects us instead to awful imitation hippie-rock in a particularly naff party scene in order to seem, like, with it, man.
Haskin provides a surplus of spectacularly ordinary suspense sequences, as Hamilton keeps surviving assassination attempts, through such outlandish methods as on an out-of-control carousel and being stranded on a jet missile firing range, which is a particularly ludicrous moment – the firepower of the stock-footage jets seems to equal a few hand grenades. The film is further hurt by sloppy filmmaking, and by poor production values, full of short-cut effects, cardboard sets, and tacky, modish visual tricks. It’s sad to compare the excellence of the filmmaking in Pal and Haskin’s earlier collaborations with the overall air of barren competence here, and this bears out just how much Hollywood studio craft had declined in the intervening decade and a half, shaken by uncertainties of which audience to pitch to and at what level, and starved of passion and ingenuity. Notably, later films like The Fury (1978) and Scanners (1981) stole liberally from this film and proved infinitely more entertaining. The Power is only just interesting enough to watch until the end.